The left-wing case for an English parliament

The left need to offer a collective, forward-looking, dynamic and all-inclusive vision of England and Englishness that the people of England can sign up to.

Our guest writer is Dave Dyke, creator and facilitator of England Left Forward

One of the major successes of the past 13 years, depending on your point of view, has been devolution. The establishment of the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly, coupled with the advances in the Northern Ireland peace process that seemed impossible 20 years ago, have transformed the governance and the culture of three of the four nations within the Union.

However, this has left a big question at the heart of government, which has also had a knock-on effect culturally:

“How should England be governed?”

This is often referred to in the media as “The English Question”; it is a question that the major political parties have, so far, avoided answering in a satisfactory manner. In fact, the major parties seem to avoid any mention of England and Englishness altogether.

They have either pushed the British agenda or wished to impose the regionalisation of England against the will of the people. The failure of the English regional assembly referendum in the North East in 2004 was due to the proposed assembly being no more than a glorified county council, whose geographical area and powers were dictated from the centre, without consultation with the grassroots.

But there has also been a current of thought, especially on the left, that to debate England and Englishness is inherently racist. This has led to a subsequent reluctance to either encourage the flying of the flag of England or to celebrate St George’s Day.

This has acted as a marvellous recruiting sergeant for parties and organisations of the right and far-right, such as the BNP, with their promises of an English “Folk” Parliament – with its ensuing visions of Apartheid-era South Africa – and the English Defence League.

This is why I have established the England Left Forward network, and the aims are two-fold. The first aim is to provide a space for those of us on the left, whether politically active or otherwise, to articulate, debate and resolve the various aspects of the English Question, in particular with respect to providing England with a legitimate political voice.

The second aim is to identify a vision for the various aspects of England and Englishness that is not nationalistic in nature, but draws on the experience and contributions of all who engage in the debate. For England is a country; it is not a colour, a race or a religion.

Where there’s disagreement on the aims, we hope to come to an accommodation that’s acceptable to all involved. Where there’s agreement, we intend to articulate the most appropriate way of taking things forward.

Currently the left seem to be playing a game of catch-up with the right over the English Question. If we can offer a collective, forward-looking, dynamic and all-inclusive vision of England and Englishness that the people of England can sign up to, as opposed to the nationalistic jingoism and flag-waving of the right, the game, although anything but, will be back on equal terms.

Let’s get working on that vision!

61 Responses to “The left-wing case for an English parliament”

  1. Me Bungo Pony

    “Scotaolnd may love its hand outs but it is nothing like as progrssive as England”

    Scotland does not receive handouts. It’s gets a portion of the money it sends to the Treasury back as a block grant. Treasury figures show that the money spent in Scotland is less than the revenue collected. Especially when you remove the money counted as having been spent in Scotland that has never got so much as a whiff of heather (eg London Olympic spending).

    According to Treasury figures, Scotland has about 8.5% of the UK’s popln, accounts for about 9.2% of UK expenditure while contributing about 11% of UK revenue. The “subsidy junkie” line is yet another myth that misinforms the debate in England concerning devolution. Despite politicians best efforts to portray Scotalnd as a “beggar nation” with completely manufactured “deficits” (which magically become “public sector borrowing requirements” when talking about the UK as a whole), the actual figures show Scotland in fiscal surplus far more often than the UK manages to achieve. Even in the few years Scotland goes into deficit, the level of deficit is more often than not less than the share of the UK deficit she has to share in shouldering.

    Don’t let myth colour the debate over an English Parliament. It should not be based on any anti-Scottish sentiment but on a pro-English/democracy platform.

    PS What do you mean by “progressive”? I’d say Scotland was very progressive in many areas. I’m not sure why you think England is more “progressive”.

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  3. Steve Buckel

    Hi, I come here for the first time as a previously Conservative voting, current-government hating, non LibDem/UKIP/BNP, independently-minded person who has emigrated due to what I see as the blatant collusion of big business and big government acting against the individual in our society, surely not something that the left can be that proud of.

    Why come here and risk the flames that I expect to get?

    Because there is a case for an English parliament. It was first posited by one of your lot, Tam Dalyell, as the West Lothian question, though named so by one of my lot, Enoch Powell.

    I did not agree with everything that either of them said and, possibly, many of you will concur with that, probably for different reasons. But they were both very perspicacious on this particular subject and I would urge those who have not read either of them, in this matter, to go the extra mile and read both.

    The issue, for example, of Scottish MP’s voting on English affairs when MSP’s vote otherwise (e.g. tuition fees) is one which, if you fail to acknowledge it, you undermine your own position, both rationally and morally.

    But if Scotland and Wales can have their own parliaments, which address their own interests (the whole point of such enterprise, surely) then England must be afforded the same.

    The issues of whether a United Kingdom can survive, of whether the parliaments of each will have a permanent majority, or whether they are of predominantly a left or right wing composition are, I would suggest, rather secondary. They are the ebb and flow of life. The UK was created because a Scottish king ascended to the English throne after all. Subsequent history has taught us that once great parties can shrink to irrelevance. The current focus seems to be so short term.

    What subsists now, in terms of voter support, may not still be the case for each of the Kingdom’s components within your lifetimes. So I urge everyone to think beyond tactical considerations and more towards our mutual longer-term needs. I do not see any current party’s dogma achieving this.

    Remember Bob Dylan’s words, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

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  5. jdennis_99

    Nice to see the left actually acknowledging this issue for once.

    However, don’t confuse nationalism and patriotism with the far right. Don’t confuse the BNP with the far right, either. It is perfectly possible to have a strong national pride in England, it’s history and culture, without being a fascist. And the BNP have nothing to do with nationalism – especially not English nationalism. They’re authoritarians, and England has always been at its best when championing individual freedom.

    A vision of England should be nationalistic, because England is a nation – but that doesn’t mean it has to subscribe to the ‘we-are-Eng-er-land-get-out-you-darkies’ school of thought. For me, England means individual freedom, equality of opportunity (but not equality of outcome), and a fair and just society based on the rule of law. It means I should be able to put up a St. George’s flag in my garden and not be called a racist. It means I should have a government and a parliament that will listen to me. It means that I should not be treated as a second-class citizen, just because I wasn’t born in Scotland or Wales.

  6. Dave Dyke

    @jdennis_99

    Thanks for the insight. Some of us on the left have always acknowledged this issue. Unfortunately the leadership of the left hasn’t…

    You ascribe to a civic nationalist vision, akin to the ones envisaged and successfully articulated by the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales? The problem for those of us on the left who acknowledged the issue has been that even if we’d argued the civic nationalist vision of England, we’d have been accused of being racist.

    I can see where you’re coming from with the BNP argument. On the Political Compass website, the x-axis (left – right) relates to your economic viewpoint, whereas the y-axis is your social viewpoint. On the UK Parties 2008 page:

    //www.politicalcompass.org/extremeright

    The BNP’s economic policy is on the left, but socially they are strict authoritarians.

    When I took the test, my result came out slap bang in the middle of the libertarian left quadrant, around the same point as the Greens.

  7. Alexander Mitchell

    I am a Scot, who has some doubts over whether the Holyrood parliament was a good idea constitutionally. Yes it has given us a more powerful say in our affairs, which was a demand which grew exponentially under Thatcher and her economic policies over heavy industry, and it is a good forum for debate on purely scottish matters. It has done a lot of good, free personal care for the elderly, smoking bans, much needed modernisation of some areas of Scots law and helping Scotland regain a form of civic confidence it has been lacking. I do not subscribe to any notions of independence, the majority of Scots are loyal to the union in and see it’s benefits, in contrast to the view put across by the elected SNP administration (elected by a promises on education and universities and the NHS in Scotland which had nothing to do with Independence). But I do see a fatal flaw in it’s founding, the constitutional basis. It and the welsh assembly fail to notice the effect on creating constitutional in-balance between us and the English.

    In that case an English parliament, or what ever form of representative body chosen, would be able to address this by establishing a federal Britain. 4 Constituent Nations, each with equal powers to each parliament and a federal government controlling matters of national (fed.) tax, macro-economic matters, foreign affairs (defence esp.) and co-ordinating the judicial, educational and health services of the 4 Union states. This would quell nationalism in Scotland and England and prevent the break up of a very effective union. I do stress this as a Scottish Unionist’s opinion, but it would be such a progressive move forward that it could help address matters like the West-Lothian/English questions and establish a modern co-operative union based on mutual respect and assistance to one another.

    Through in proportional vote elections for all bodies (already existing in Scotland, Wales and NI) especially at Westminster, a constitutional document and reform of the House of Lords and the English question could give a UK wide answer to solve the constitutional mess of devolution and help create a fairer Union.

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  9. Paul Z. Temperton

    An English Parliament is a terrible idea. The main purpose of devolution is to decentralise power. An English government would not be noticeably any more decentralised than the UK government — which is far too centralised in my view. Also, with the possible exception of football teams, there is no clear emotional entity called “England”, unlike Scotland and Wales. When people say “England” they means all sorts of different things. The basis for equivalence with Scotland and Wales must be the English regions.

  10. Martin Sage

    The bizarre way in which the UK is organised politically makes it hard for those of us who were born and live in England to feel a part of any entity apart from a county. Few foreigners could understand how Scotland and Wales have their own Government but England does not (apart from Brussels of course) I can never understand why Scottish sports results are trotted out on the BBC as if those of us in England are any more interested in them than those from France or Azerbaijan.

  11. Luke Silburn

    There are obvious theoretical reasons why there should be an English tier of government to sit alongside the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies – but there are practical considerations which make this problematic within the context of the current UK arrangement.

    England constitutes five sixths of the UK population, so an English assembly would dominate any federal arrangement that paid any attention to democratic proportionality. You’d end up with England playing Prussia to the UK’s North German Federation.

    To bell the English cat, you either have to go with putting in extremely strong ‘small state’ counterweights for the non-English components of the federal structure or breaking down the English component of the federal structure into several chunks that are approximately co-equal with Scotland (ie the English regions). I don’t think the first option is politically or theoretically sustainable, whilst the second option suffers from the lack of appetite that exists for these regional assemblies; also I suspect that London, SE and E would stitch things up at the federal level using a combination of their demographic weight (one third of the voter base) and their hegemonic position in the economy. So I am doubtful that either option would be a stable solution in the long term.

    I think therefore that English devolution implies the eventual dissolution of the UK.

    Note I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that end state (I haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion on the matter), but I think we should be mindful that this is a likely outcome.

    Regards
    Luke

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